By Ryan Velez
A report from The Huffington Post states that Congress may soon be taking action to help other cities in the U.S. avoid water lead poisoning like the current crisis in Flint, Michigan. In an appearance on “So That Happened,” The Huffington Post politics podcast, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich) said, “we are now in the Senate—and we’ll be doing it in the House—passing funding and resources so that we can fix our water infrastructure in America.”
Democrats originally proposed $600 million of direct federal assistance to Flint, mainly to help the city replace its lead pipes, the cause of the water poisoning crisis. After Republican resistance to the proposal on the grounds that it directed funds only to one community, a bipartisan compromise was formed that would help any state access loans for water emergencies, as well as general upgrades to their infrastructure.
The situation in Flint has resulted in an expanded national discussion not only on water safety, but lead exposure in general and its harmful effects. Information from the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) shows that approximately 10 million American homes and buildings get water from service lines at least partly made of lead.
Due to expenses, most lead pipes still remain in the ground, while federal law requires water treatment to avoid corrosion of these pipes and prevent lead particles from entering people’s homes. However, treatment mistakes could lead to a scenario similar to what Flint is currently experiencing. Lead is recognized as very unsafe, particularly to children, who can be subjected to brain damage and behavioral issues.
The current Senate proposal will provide $100 million to help states apply for subsidized loans in times of emergency, as well as $70 million in credit subsidies for states to get upgrades to their water infrastructure, including the removal of lead pipes. The EPA is also currently revising the Safe Drinking Water Act regulation, which would change the way public water systems respond to high lead levels.
While the legislation is generally being positively received, many experts believe that more current water regulations need to be focused on as well. Paul Schwartz, water policy expert at Water Alliance, described Congress’s actions as “still at the margins of fixing the problem, but not really at the heart of what the major problems are in Flint and across the water utility systems in the United States.”